Every employer survey since the CBI's 1989 report has shown two things:
1. employers' emphasis on the importance of employability skills and
2. continued dissatisfaction with particular "soft" skills required in every workplace e.g. communication and business/customer awareness.
Employers want applicants with employability skills, but the definition of these skills varies from company to company, and even departments within the same company. For schools, colleges and universities, without a clear definition, they are unable to teach and assess "employability skills" because it will never fit into their required "learning outcomes assessment criteria" frameworks. This results in academia being unable to deliver what the majority of students want: "a nationally recognised record of the employability skills you have developed..."(CBI/NUS, 2011)
Almost half of students say that the importance of employability hasn't been explained to them during their time at university (CBI/NUS 2011), while universities are admitting that they aren't best equipped to teach employability without more input from employers (MMU Employability and Citizenship Conference 2012).
Instead of asking employers if they are happy with, for example, graduates' communication skills we propose a 3 phase solution to these problems:
1: Defining employability
2: Training for employability
3: Hiring on employability
An employer has a few dozen apprenticeships available for the coming year but gets 9000 applications. To narrow down this number in order to look for candidates it wants to interview, it has to reluctantly reject the majority of applications based purely on the number of 'A's achieved in school exams. As exam grades have continued to rise, this method is becoming even less effective and the employer (in this case, National Grid) acknowledges this, but at the moment sees no viable alternative.
The implementation of this concept will give this employer exactly what it needs: a finer grained differentiator that measures work skills rather than just academic qualifications.
Mark is a young person who has never been great at exams. He's a hard worker, so he's been able to pass, but his grades have never been great. On Saturdays he works in a shop and has built a great rapport with the customers, and on Sunday's he plays for the village football team for which he also acts as club secretary. He is looking for a job but is finding that his average exam results are eliminating him before interview for all but the lowest paid jobs.
The implementation of this concept will give Mark a better way to gain the attention of employers: His Saturday job and work at the football club have resulted in much better than average "marks" in communication skills, business and customer awareness, teamwork and leadership etc. An enlightened employer using the system will find and chose Mark over hundreds of straight-A students who don't have the same initiative/real-world skills.
The Three Things the Panel Wished to be Explored Further:
1) How will it scale?
One of the best things about this concept is that Phases 1 and 3 scale very well through the use of web technologies and the fact that a common curriculum/rubrick/taxonomy will cover the whole country. An idea management system (such as OpenIDEO!) will be used for Phase-1 and a secure, database-driven web site/service for Phase-3.
A perfect example of something being performed in a particular industry is the Bloomberg Assessment Test (BAT) and we encourage fellow OpenIDEO folks to check it out for inspiration :https://www.bloomberginstitute.com/bat/start/
We have met with the Bloomberg people in London and been shown what they are doing first hand. It's most impressive and the concept is a perfect base on which to build a similar solution for employability skills.
The middle phase (delivery and assessment) doesn't benefit so directly from online tools, but is still very scalable at the "human" level due to the fact that there are already dozens (hundreds?) of individual employability initiatives throughout the country and some are very good indeed. Leveraging this existing "infrastructure" and the increasing number of business people wishing to "give back" by sharing their hard-earned experience, makes the proposition very scalable indeed.
Last month Carole & John were invited to meet with Lord Tim Clement-Jones as he has a particular interest in this area. Tea and cake at the House of Lords was wonderful, but his advice (and Anna's in the comments) was even better: Start small and, because the concept is so good, give it the space to snowball. Find three or four school/uni - employer pairs and allow the Government to host a launch event in Westminster to give the concept it's blessing and have Skills Minister John Hayes say a few words. [Update: As of this morning's cabinet reshuffle (5th Sept) John Hayes is now Energy Minister. We will therefore approach Matthew Hancock or Vince Cable directly or via an introduction from Tim].
2) How can we include young people who have already left school?
Back to the idea of scalability, if employability skills are on the curriculum at school then the solution is (relatively) neat, and - after hearing Carole's elevator pitch at an event - Michael Gove has asked for a meeting to explore how this could work. However, once people have left school then the provision of the skills teaching and assessment can still be provided by the private sector possibliy in collaboration with local Colleges/Universities.
An organisation like the Association of Employment and Learning Providers (http://www.aelp.org.uk/) is perfectly placed to help coordinate this and Graham Hoyle OBE is already enthusiastic about the idea. With a common taxonomy to work to, suddenly service providers will no longer be a heterogeneous collection of 100s of small outfits, but will become a powerful coalition working towards the same goal.
An "after school" club format is one idea to help young people who have just left school but which could be run on local company premises, co hosted by either the local council or an approved skills provider with young people self selecting based on their preferred industry. This concept comes back to the idea of employers being involved in the delivery and assessment of the skills at school and higher education level. Hosting skills evenings, again in collaboration and with the support of learning providers or Colleges/Universities would offer employers and local councils a low-cost opportunity to engage in outreach.
3) Can we think of a better name?
We believe we have a plan to progress all aspects of this concept, yet ironically this simple yet most important of tasks has so far proved beyond us! "Employability Taxonomy Initiative" is neither catchy nor descriptive, so we appeal to fellow OpenIDEO members and the challenge sponsors for help. One idea would be to find a pronounceable acronym which included the name of the organisation willing to sponsor the initiative e.g. Barclays Employability Taxonomy (BET), but better!
Update - Anna Haaland in the comments has kindly set the ball rolling with some three-letter acronym suggestions. We have also have an offline suggestion of GET (Generic Employability Taxonomy) which has the advantage of being an 'action' word.
Experts consulted so far:
Anne Tipple OBE - National Skills Executive, British Chambers of Commerce
James Fothergill - Head of Education and Skills, CBI
John Cowen - Skills Directorate, Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS)
Sir Deian Hopkin - President of the National Library of Wales, Ex-Vice Chancellor of London South Bank University
John Fairhurst - Ex-President of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)
Dr. Janet Hannah, Director of Coventry University London Campus (CULC)